Distinguished as the first U.S. navy vessel put to sea, and the first to engage and defeat an enemy ship, the USS Constellation set out on her maiden voyage, September 1, 1797.
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After years of faithful service, she was decommissioned in the year 1853, and broken up for scrap material. But this was hardly the end of her life. In 1854, the navy constructed a new ship, possibly using bits and pieces of the old, and again christened her the USS Constellation. If nothing else, the name lived on. Under the command of Charles H. Bell, the navy launched this powerfully armed sloop-of-war on the 26th of August, 1854. The Constellation served in various capacities for a full century, until her final decommission on the 15th of August, 1955, when at long last, the navy removed her from the rolls.
Again, not the end of her life, though. You see, once removed from the naval rolls, the ship found a permanent berth in what is known as Constellation Dock, Inner Harbor at Pier 1 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was designated a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. She also has the distinction of being the last existing naval vessel from the American Civil War that remains intact.
Fully restored in 1999, the Constellation made her first trip out of Baltimore's Inner Harbor since 1955. In October of 2004, she set sail for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and this six day voyage marked her first trip to the city in 111 years.
All fine and good, but is it haunted?
I don't know. But...
In 1822, the original Constellation witnessed a tragedy. Two sailors stabbed the surgeon’s assistant, naught but a young lad, to death. No one ever discovered why they did it. Psychic Sybil Leek tells us that the boy’s ethereal being is still aboard the Constellation.
The most reported specter aboard the Constellation is identified as Seaman Neil Harvey. In fact, Harvey is so well represented that visitors have mistaken him for one of the tour guides. As the story goes, Neil incurred the wrath of Commodore Thomas Truxton, commander of the first Constellation. During the battle that led to the capture of the French Frigate, L’Insurgent in 1799, Harvey fell asleep while on watch. In consequence of this violation, Truxton ordered his lieutenant to run Harvey through with his sword. Then, to drive the example home, the Commodore ordered Harvey tied to the barrel of a cannon. Whether or not Harvey still breathed at this point, no one knows. The cannonball blasted Harvey's remains across the sea.
Since 1953, sailors have reported strange noises and unidentifiable shapes roaming the decks. And, during the time they moored the submarine USS Pike next to the ship, reports of ghosts flitting about the Constellation were a common occurrence.
Having heard these outrageous tales, Lieutenant Commander Allen R. Brougham invited a photographer to accompany him on a ghost hunt. At about midnight, near the ship’s wheel, they captured the figure of a nineteenth century naval captain on film. Many believe this phantom is Captain Thomas Truxton.
Other apparitions abound. One, they believe, is a seaman who reportedly hung himself because he could no longer handle the stress and strain of a seagoing career.
Then we have Carl Hansen, a mid-twentieth century night watchman and perhaps the only jovial spirit on the Constellation. He walked the decks in mortality until 1963, when automated alarms and security systems relieved him of this duty. Many have seen his spirit playing cards on a lower deck. Oh, and one more thing about Carl. A priest who toured the ship praised the knowledge and enthusiasm exhibited by his guide. Yet, when he described the guide, he didn’t fit the description of any current staff member. But, he did describe Carl Hansen with eerie exactness.
So, if you are ever in Baltimore harbor, Pier 1, take the opportunity to visit the Constellation, and see if you can detect the presence of a ghostly crew. Perhaps you might be invited for a game of cards...or even find a tour guide that's just out of this world. Although I should warn you, if you smell gunpowder something otherworldly might be happening. Something that's not so good...In fact, you might want to get out...
A place you'd want to visit? Or would you rather avoid the Constellation altogether?